Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tick Tock

Clocks make me anxious. Their implacable measurement of time creates deadlines I have no way of eluding. Bed time, meal time, time to leave the house – all are boundaries by which I mark my days, rushing from one to the next, hurrying to meet appointments already past or rushing up so swiftly that I cry out in frustration, snapping needlessly at those around me, as if the endless march of seconds is somehow their fault.

Two days a week I have mini-vacations – time when my children are being cared for by others. I fill that space with errands but often find that without the fuss of car seats, stopping to select and pocket random small rocks, discussions of “why I am eager to leave the store/bank/restaurant now that my task is completed and I understand you’re still investigating something I don’t begin to comprehend but can we please leave now?” I have time to sit for a few unexpected minutes. Once I filled that space with books or radio or writing lists, but now I sit, reaching for stillness, and appreciating that found time for the gift it is.

On vacation, the mere act of removing my watch slows me down, liberates me from self-imposed structures of hours and minutes, allowing me to savor a few extra moments of dark sleepy night-time storytelling with my son, or a mischievous demand for just one more bed-time song from my daughter. Not hemmed in by a morning alarm, I find myself more readily leaning into my husband and chatting into the night about upcoming schedules and not-so-distant plans, or talking more quietly and intimately about our dreams.

This week I had to take my watch in for repair, and I won’t see it again for four whole days. I feel naked and mildly panicky, worried that I’ll miss something. I don’t know why, since I have the cell phone, the computer, the car, and two clocks in the kitchen (one of which is on the oven and reads 350 when I bake, which confuses my husband to no end). I wonder if not having a watch on my wrist, physically tying me to the passage of time, will change my perception of the week. I know I put everyone to bed nearly an hour early tonight, but I can’t tell if that was due to the darkening sky or some less pleasant motive. I decided this evening, though, to believe that not having a watch means I am on vacation, and I will practice relaxing instead of fighting the rigors of a timely life. Perhaps this is a lesson for me: what a blessing to sometimes step outside of time, to find a place where there are no consequences for a late night, or a long morning walk, or an extra story or two.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Change of seasons

Winter stopped by today. We have been graced with a slow fall, drifting from green to yellow and red, with a glorious blue background each day. Yesterday our front yard was a frenzy of leaf raking and neighborly child labor, with a brief break for homemade chocolate chip cookies to recharge. Today the cool gray sky warned us to break out coats and mittens, which my children willfully disregarded, much to their chagrin fifteen minutes later. We warmed up in a bundle on the couch, in front of a slow fire in the new wood stove and relishing a rare weekday movie. I have become sleepy with the cooler weather, slowing my frantic efforts to tidy the house and instead melting into my easy chair with ancient magazines which are no longer relevant but lightly pass the time. I can barely bring myself to go outside, preferring instead to peruse recipes for slow-cooked food like bread and hearty roasts. I get more time with my children, too, who are drawn reluctantly inside when it becomes too dark to distinguish one child from the next. Instead of digging up my front yard, my son sits in front of the fire, mesmerized by the flames. If I approach carefully, I sometimes can get quiet insight into his day, which is otherwise summed up with a careless "It was good" which leaves me aching for the hours I don't see. Winter is a time for reacquainting ourselves, I think, after sharing our days with the neighborhood. The intimacy of darkness brings us close.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Waiting with bated breath

I'm having nightmares. Friends being kidnapped and murdered, children being hurt. My sleep is so deep I can't swim up, and the dream is past by the time I wake, so that I am only bemused and anxious, rather than free to cry and release the tension which shakes my bed. I believe I'm translating concern about the election into creative fear, but I don't know for sure where my anxiety comes from. I pray it is over soon. Forgetting the unpleasantness of the flyers in the mail (what a waste of resources and money, I think, as I dump them into the recycling bin), and the ceaseless ads, and the light political jabs over the dinner table, I just need to know what comes next. I don't like stories that never conclude, and this has been endless. I think I've been telegraphing my unrest to the children and the dog; we all have short tempers right now. Perhaps, after the 4th, we will sleep again, and find harmony in each other's company again. I wait. We all do.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Walking after dark

We have a new dog. This is an exciting development in our household, although Teddy has fit in so well as to make her arrival almost a non-event, except that the back yard fence is finally being rebuilt (to my great pleasure). I tell you only because I now find myself walking the neighborhood at a time of night when I in the past allowed myself to lapse into the doldrums of television.

Evening walks are a sensory experience. Without the definition of daylight, my relationship with my environment becomes much more tactile - previously duck-able branches and leaves part my hair as I forge through them; I cannot time my passage through the sprinkler; plants easily identified in the morning are instead appreciated solely for their scent, thrown across the grass by ungainly dog and leash. Streetlights throw japanese leaf prints on the sidewalk, dappled art disrupted but undisturbed by my passage. I find myself lost just yards from home, disoriented by unfamiliar landscaping. Fortunately Teddy guides me, lurching against her lead, home.

Friday, June 20, 2008


V came into my room at five this morning. She's been doing that -- demanding bed space at first light; trying to play games while my eyes are still crusted shut. At first I was resentful, but after she fell back to sleep I realized she'd given me a gift. Solitude.

I don't often get time to myself. Granted, the younglings play by themselves a fair bit, but their games sparkle with brilliant ideas that need monitoring by less inventive folks. Otherwise we'd have a yard pocked by randomly spaced, ankle-twisting holes filled with stew (made of water, grass, mud, leaves, bugs, ashes, soap, and other things I dare not contemplate); leprechaun traps (bricks, rocks, pointy sticks and nails); and interspersed with found and then forgotten "treasures" such as broken tail lights, bits of jump rope, bottle caps tied on strings, and many, many small rocks. My children have deep white trash roots I can only attribute to my husband. It's all his fault. Really.

But this morning my inventors are asleep, and I have solitude. As I lay in bed contemplating my own wakefulness, I began listing all the things I could do while they slept: grocery store, respond to email, empty the dishwasher, make more lists. Then I got up, made myself a cup of tea, and sat on the porch to watch the sunrise reflected on the trees. First, the ends of certain branches shone orange and pink, then a shaft of light hit a blooming rose in the neighbor's yard, turning it from pink to burning magenta. It rained last night, and the air is cold on my toes. I savor these early morning goosebumps against the prediction of several ninety degree days in a row. My green tea is grassy and fresh on my tongue, and the robins are serenading me, in hopes that I will sprinkle the lawn and draw worms to the surface for them.

I breathe, and put off obligations for a few more minutes. Solitude is a gift. I will cherish it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A gift given

Several weeks ago I gave a friend a tin of oatmeal raisin cookies I had made. As always, I made far too many and was happy to share. Her family enjoyed the cookies, she returned the tin a couple days later, and I put it away. Today as I was attempting to clean my kitchen I moved the tin and realized there was something inside. Instead of giving me cookies in return (which I specifically asked that she not do), my friend had put in several articles she thought I'd enjoy.
She was right; there was one article on knitting, one on architecture, and a recipe for home-made chai. All suit me quite nicely, and it was a delightful respite to sit on a stool in the middle of the kitchen and read through random snippets I would otherwise never have found. It also got me thinking; gifts given are a mirror in which the recipient can better see how others perceive them.
Once I gave my mother a necklace depicting a dancing goddess. To me the goddess reflected my mother's indomitable spirit. I don't quite remember what I wrote in the accompanying note, but I do remember how surprised my mother was. She doesn't believe herself to be the person I see. Perhaps that is a family trait -- I think of myself as rather stodgy, but the articles I received reflected someone with wide interests, a zest for spice (literally), and a certain amount of creativity.
I like how you see me. Thank you.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Here comes the rain again

The rain clouds have blown in again. From the second floor windows I watched the western mountains fade behind falling gray sheets. I was startled back to home by swirls of new seeds rattling against the window, mimicking recent snow. Silhouetted by the storm, tree limbs, still bare, stood jagged like black lightning reaching upward. I waited, hoping for thunder.
My husband and I once drove across New Mexico, racing a distant storm. He, accustomed to the overhanging green tunnels of vegetation on the East Coast, found the desert empty and dull. I, in turn, reveled at the grandness of it all, breathing deeply as if my very being had been constricted by vines and leaves and was, for the first time in eight years, finally able to expand again. I find the obvious beauty of maples and oaks gaudy and ordinary; but the hues of sand and stone and prairie undulating over a hundred miles require attention to appreciate. That day, as the storm rippled across the horizon flashing clouds pink above bright threads of lightning and blowing golden oases of sunlight across the land below, Will finally saw through my eyes.

I always have loved a storm. When I was a girl I would wait anxiously for the late summer storms that rolled through, pushing the leaden summer heat before them. First the leaves of the cottonwoods would shiver over silver like can-can dancers throwing up their skirts, then tendrils of cool air would slip past, until the rain broke and I would make my way slowly to shelter, stomping momentary puddles whose mud oozed between my toes, to finally sit at the edge of the porch under the mist of deflected rain and count the number of times the thunder crossed the sky.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My personal blessings

My first child was conceived right around Sept 11, 2001, and as I carried him I carried also the burden of knowing I was bringing a child into a world where such horrors could happen. I often wondered if we were doing the right thing. However, at night when I woke to the shimmy of Sam's personal tango, a popular song whose refrain was "everything's gonna be all right" played in he back of my mind, and I took comfort in that message. I often find reassurance in the random lyrics of song.

Months later I watched him sleep, stretched out on a lambskin on the living room floor, and I saw a conversation play out on his unconscious face. First a smile, then an intense look of concentration, and finally a silent laugh that spread to the ends of his fingers. I believe even now that he was talking to angels.

I think my sweet boy is a new soul. He's never been through the wringer. The responsibility of guiding him to adulthood, helping him find a road with maybe a few less bumps, is daunting. But having him in my life is such a blessing. As I once told my friends as we despaired, I have a daily reminder of all that is good in this world, no matter what darkness lurks at the edges of our reality. Thank you my sweet boy, for always showing me the light.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The taste of a pear

Years ago a character in a mostly forgettable movie asked someone to describe the taste of a pear. I have pondered that question for years, never quite satisfied with the answer I come up with. Color descriptions are obvious. Red is hot or spicy or loud. Blue chills and darkens to ice and loneliness. Green is picnics on just-cut grass. Descriptions of scents are basic -- musky, or flowery, fresh or stale, even just plain bad. Whey, then, is taste so difficult to describe? Why is every unfamiliar meat described with "tastes like chicken"? Perhaps because taste is so personal, so ephemeral. Or maybe because it is sensual -- the only one of the five senses that happens only when you take some object inside yourself. But none of that answers the question: What does a pear taste like?

After far too many years of pondering, I recently had two epiphanies, and I'm wondering which sounds right to you? And if I haven't gotten it, what's
your answer?

A pear tastes like the first kiss with someone who makes your heart race. It starts soft, sweet, and tender, but before you pull away it catches, changes texture and becomes more assertive, perhaps messy, and requires two hands and a laugh as you look upward and stop for a moment to savor before you lean back in for more.

A pear tastes like dawn on a mountain top. You're not quite sure what to expect, and you look out and see glimpses of what's coming and you take a lightly perfumed breath inward. Then suddenly it's light and everywhere you turn there's something new and it's all lovely and you begin recognizing the shapes around you, and each one is delightful and familiar and yet somehow new.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

She's crafty!

Now that I am not part of the corporate world, I find I make projects for myself. This week -- repairing the seats of the dining chairs I inherited! Tearing them apart I found cotton batting, grass (for padding) about seven thousand tacks per seat, and disintegrating burlap webbing. Each one made me sneeze (and itch) for hours, but I'm feeling mighty proud of my work. They are actually more comfortable than before! Now I just have to motivate myself to do the remaining four (out of six). Perhaps I'm taking credit a little early. Anyway.

Before & After

This week's flowers

Pink tulips were the first flowers my husband ever bought me. No wonder I like them so.

invisible wings

Yesterday my little girl was swinging on her belly and she overbalanced and scraped her faced across the ground before she recovered. I was inside, and then outside before the first scream segued to the next, only to laugh as she spluttered dirt out of her mouth and shrieked at the indignity of it all. After much cuddling and tentative face washing and several attempts to put a bandage on just the right spot (all were eventually torn off as ineffectual), she forgot she was hurt.

In my mind I have a long, long white wall, on which are hung many "Bad Mommy" plaques, one for each lapse in judgment or self-control or completely unavoidable incident which damages my children. I did not award myself the Bad Mommy yesterday, although one could argue that letting my girl play alone outside, unsupervised, was a bad choice.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The bell

We gather slowly, pulled like the tide from our jobs or homes or errands, bringing whatever we were holding when the time came--small children, dogs, briefcases. We enter the asphalt courtyard like supplicants, gazing almost longingly at the pale edifice of the school building, then shrinking from the brightness, turning away yet unable to withdraw. In summer clusters of people find sparse shelter in pools of shadow under the three trees; in winter they line the leeward walls, humbled by cold wind.

The mingle of people grows, each quietly intent on the individual business of waiting. Early in the year there are tentative glances, like at a high school dance, but the connections become stronger and after a few months there are hushed groupings: of neighbors, class parents, awkward strangers drawn into proximity by common experience. Still--through the light conversation that passes the time--eyes glance at windows or doors, expectant, hopeful.

And then the jarring shrillness of the bell, the old clapper style that beats relentlessly on a dome and seems to go on forever and as it echoes away we all sway backwards under the awesome wave of children that erupts from the school. The shrieking joy and pulsing energy seethes, rushing around parents who stand like stones at the edge of the sea, gulping the air as if we could somehow recover our own youth if we just breathe in their essence deeply enough.

Slowly we collect our children and their daily flotsam--papers, jackets, half-empty lunch boxes--and we trickle away, leaving the pavement unmarked except for the painted outlines of games we no longer know how to play.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Waiting for Spring

I woke this morning to a muffled, dim room. Snow blanketed the skylight, and the sun was merely a rising brightness in the eastern sky. Everything was grayed further by a cloud of snow that blew in spirals and starbursts against the windows. I dragged myself onto the treadmill, resigned once again to a cold wintry day, and feeling sullen about the weather. Trudging along I wished spring would finally come, bringing consistent sun and gardening opportunities. I may have been a little bitter that my beans had frozen overnight.

While I paced, however, I remembered a weekend morning not long ago. I had (as usual) overbooked myself, and woke up already desperately behind. So when my little one padded into my room at dawn and peered over the edge of the bed asking "Mama, you 'wake?", I got up, dressed, and the two of us snuck out while Sam and Dad slept on. I intended to make a quick run to the grocery store, then blaze through several other errands before breakfast. But when we hastily stepped off the porch, the sweetness of the new morning slowed each step until I stopped at the end of the walk, holding my child, and savored the first taste of spring. Rain had softened the grass and released a fresh earth smell that had hibernated until that morning under brown grass and patches of snow. The sun was gentle, still leaving traces of pink and orange along the eastern horizon, and some robins -- the first harbingers of spring -- were diligently trotting across the lawn, pausing only to glance our way before listening again to the wakening worms. And above it all came a glorious chorus of birdsong from every tree in the neighborhood. No church has ever felt so holy.

I didn't stop long that morning -- I had work to do -- but I did take the time to appreciate a moment of grace. And this morning, as my heart began beating faster and I lumbered along, I remembered to stop anticipating the next task and appointment and phone call, but instead to take a deep breath and live now, even if there is snow on the ground and I'm going to have to replant my beans.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

My kitchen at night

I spend most of my indoor time in my kitchen; I designed the kitchen myself and feel most at home there. The other night, I was sitting here feeling content and I looked up to see these back-lit bottles above the doorway.

When I was a little girl I used to walk with my grandmother and mother to a hundred year old dump not far from the family cabin. Walking through was like being in a three-dimensional history book; we'd pick up ancient, barely legible tins, random rusty bits and pieces, and glass turned iridescent or purple with age. Holding those objects, we'd be momentarily connected to the souls to whom these were everyday objects. We'd take intact bottles back and line the sills with them, a fragile reminder of our ancestors and our history.

I've carried this tradition into my home, and love looking up at the bottles; I find a certain satisfaction in seeing the lovely shapes and pondering what they were used for. More than anything, though, I feel more grounded when I look at them. When I feel lost and lonely I can look at an old bottle and know that I, too, am linked to the past, especially to my mother and grandmother who first showed me where to look.

Beautiful Butterfly

My boy made me this picture. I've now framed it and it's hanging where I can see it every day, but I thought I'd share, too.

Same name, different spelling

My sweet boy is learning how to write phonetically (no, not hooked on fonics!) and this week he presented me with this lovely picture to honor the two of us. I didn't correct his spelling.

Baking Frenzy!

I may not have changed my name to Baker when I got married, but this month I'm beginning to think I should have. For whatever reason -- the endless tedium of waiting through a dreary spring, my recent move to eat fewer carbohydrates, or a general need to create SOMEthing, I have been in a baking frenzy. Bread, cake, more bread, strata, sourdough starter (so it's not baking. It's still part of that yeasty process!) and yet more bread. And this week I lent my bread machine to someone else. It's all about getting my hands sticky lately. But I've had some lovely successes. Now if I could only find someone to eat it all.

Because I deserve them

Every week when I go to the grocery store I buy myself a bouquet of flowers -- whatever is in season. These are some Oriental Lilies I got a couple weeks ago. Bonus this time -- they made the dining room smell all sweet and spicy and exotic.

I think we all deserve to have one beautiful thing in our lives at all times. For me it's flowers. You could say it's a waste of money, or that it's pointless, but it refeshes my soul, so it's worth it. Who cares if it means Mac & Cheese for dinner once a week? The kids certainly don't mind!

I also believe everyone should get at least one opportunity to walk into a room and get a standing ovation. But that's another theory for another time.